Five Creative Exercises to Improve Your Photography

Oded Wagenstein

Feeling stuck? Frustrated? Looking for some new ideas to add to the stories you tell with your camera? Oded Wagenstein has five creative exercises to help you break through the "what do I do now?" blues. Part I of II.

1. Compose Storytelling Portraits

Composition is more than framing alone: it is also carefully planning and choosing the right angle, light, background, timing, etc. Composition uses all the visual elements to create a sense of emotion and story to that portrait.

Make a portrait of a person you already know, such as a family member or a close friend. Create a short story about that person with the image alone (no caption) through composition. In addition to the angles, lighting, background, and timing, remember to think about the location, clothing, and necessary accessories for your portrait. Send the final image to someone who is not familiar with your subject and seek his or her feedback. Did you manage to tell the story of that person? How did others read your portrait?

2. Review Your Work

You’re probably familiar with the concept of drawing inspiration from the work of others, but you can also grow by reviewing your own work.

Take a look at your images from the past few years and select 20 of your favourite photographs. Put aside comments or feedback you received and focus on your taste and personal preference. Copy your selection to a new folder, then go through the files and find common elements in your best work. For example, are they all focused on certain themes or genres? Are you at your best when using a specific camera or lens? Did you make those photographs when you were alone or with others? It may not be initially easy to find similar elements, but finding that commonality in your best images will help you understand when, why, and how you are at your photographic best.

3. Photograph Close to Home

You don’t need to travel far to make interesting images. A good photographer must be able to see the interesting aspects of every location. Tell the story of your local environment based on your favourite photography genre. It can be a local market or street, landscape, or wildlife. At first, it may feel complex, as it’s not always easy to see the beauty of the things around you; the things you undoubtedly consider mundane. But with dedicated practice, you’ll notice things you previously ignored are worth your visual attention.

Build a photo series of 10-15 images around your subject, add captions to each, and present it to local organizations that may want to publish your photographs on their media platforms. Many community coffee shops also do rotating exhibits from local artists; ask if you can hang your work on their walls.

4. Use an Unconventional Lens

No matter what you photograph, someone will offer their advice (solicited or not) for the must-have gear they think you should have. For landscape photography, most people say that you use a wide lens, while the 50mm is considered by some to be the portrait lens. 

So when you’re out making photographs, make a practice of choosing the "wrong" focal length. For example, use a telephoto lens for landscapes, a wide lens for wildlife, or a fisheye for portraits. Using a non-conventional lens helps you see your subject from a different perspective, which pushes your visual imagination and creativity.

5. Share Your Work

"I’m not good enough," or “I need more time" are excuses I often hear from my students when I ask them to share their work online. Making the photo is only half of the work; if you want to get better at what you do, there is nothing like the feedback of an audience.

So if you’re not already doing so, share your photos with the world. Instagram is a great platform to show your work and lead people to your website. Don’t have a website? There are many simple and cost-effective designs available for photographers. Don’t want to maintain a site? Start a photography page on Facebook and gather 500 Likes in the next three months. Already have a Facebook page? What about having a photo exhibition? The platform doesn’t matter as long as you share your work and receive feedback from other people. 

Part II of this article will post on Friday, October 7. 

Oded Wagenstein is a cultural photographer, writer, workshop leader and regular contributor for National Geographic, National Geographic Traveler, Time Out (Israeli editions) and Getty Images. Between writing books on photography and traveling the world, he shares his knowledge with students at the largest photography school in Israel and in international workshops. If you like this article, you might also like Oded's eBooks, The Visual Storyteller and Stories & Faces. Oded can be found online via Facebook and on his website


Creativity Oded Wagenstein

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  • I absolutely love your work and enjoy reading your articles. i hope with studying wonderful photographers such as yourself i can improve and be a good photographer one day.

    Tracey on
  • Enjoyed reading your post. Great photographs. I personally have great difficulty in reviewing my work. After a year or so i find my photographs outdated and not that good anymore. I hope it is so, due to the process of my skills.

    Anastasios on

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